Myra Bradwell v. State of Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873)

In Politics on 31/08/2009 at 2:28 PM

NOTES AND COMMENTS: In Bradwell, the court solidified the narrow scope of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment set in the Slaughterhouse Cases handed down the day before. This was the first case brought to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a sex-based classification as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (pp. 14). I feel that the precedent set by this case is very unfortunate and the language in Justice Bradley’s concurring opinion to be misogynistic. Such vocal and negative opinions of the court kept Women’s Rights against discrimination from coming to fruition. Though Justice Miller’s opinion came to the same conclusion it was admirable that his decision was not based on Mrs Bradwell’s gender, and though his opinion sets an unhealthy precedent that employment is not a protected privilege and immunity of citizenship the tone of his opinion does not belittle Women’s Rights.

FACTS: Illinois state law bars married women from making contracts which shall be binding on herself or her husband without direct consent from her husband. This law weighed heavily in the Illinois supreme court’s decision that married women are incompetent to fully perform the duties and trusts that belong to the office of an attorney. Despite the law adapted by the Illinois legislature barring the denial of employment to any person on the basis of sex; Myra Bradwell, who had trained for and passed the Illinois State Bar Exam was denied admission to the bar, because she was a married woman. Mrs Bradwell brought suit in the State Court system, which denied her claim and she appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

ISSUE: Does the Illinois State Law denying married women the ability to enter into contracts without the consent of her husband, thus disallowing her from becoming an attorney, violate the privileges and immunities clause of the fourteenth amendment?

REASONING: Justice Miller: The privileges and immunities belonging to the citizens of the United States are forbidden to be abridged by the state; however, the right to admission to practice in the courts of the state is not one of them. The right to control and regulate the granting of license to practice law in the courts of a state is one of those powers which are not transferred for its protection to the Federal government, and its exercise is in no manner governed or controlled by citizenship of the United States in the party seeking such license.

DECISION: Affirmed.

RULE: A State Law denying married women the ability to enter into contracts without the consent of her husband, do not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the fourteenth amendment.

CONCURRING: Justice Bradley: The laws of Illinois which are in question are not obnoxious to the charge of abridging any of the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States. The supreme court of Illinois denied the application on the grounds that, by common law, only men are admitted to the bar. It cannot be affirmed as a historical fact that it is the right of every person, male and female, to engage in any lawful employment for livelihood, has ever been established as one of the immunities and privileges of the female gender.
Civil law and nature has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. The harmony of interests and views which belong or should belong to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband. So firmly fixed was this sentiment in the founders of common law that it became a maxim of that system of jurisprudence that a woman had no legal existence separate from her husband.
It is the prerogative of the legislator to prescribe regulations founded on nature, reason and experience for the due admission of qualified persons to professions and callings demanding special skill and confidence. This fairy belongs to the police and power of the state. I am not prepared to say that one of her fundamental rights and privileges is to be admitted to every office and position including those which require highly special qualifications and commanding special responsibilities.
Justice Field with Justice Swayne: Concur with the opinion of Justice Bradley, with no other comments.
Chief Justice Chase: Dissents with no further comment.

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